NIIT Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation is working with children and youth from under-served communities to provide them literacy program and new-age skill development program.
New Delhi: Ellakiya is a young girl who hails from a small town near Chennai and her father runs a modest mobile repair shop. Like most young girls of her age, she aspires to become an engineer one day.
However, the lack of English comprehension, poor communication skills, low confidence, and limited IT skills become barriers in pursuing her dream. Like Ellakiya, several youths are out there, but the lack of skill training acts as a deterrent in most cases.
NIIT Foundation, a not for-profit organisation is working with these youth to develop technical skills and build leadership qualities that will empower them to conquer their dreams.
Established in 2004, with a vision of making a demonstrable deep impact in the community, NIIT Foundation is committed to providing innovative solutions in training and skilling for our country's underserved children and youth and thereby contribute towards nation-building.
India has an unmatched youth population, where out of the world's total youth, every fifth resides (20%) in India. With the rapid urbanization and internet penetration, this demographic has a proclivity for technology and has an untapped pool of talent for the future workforce.
With a presence in 25 states of India, NIIT Foundation's Education and Skilling programs focus on skilling youth and preparing them for the future of work. They also run school programs for in -and out-of-school children and work with the larger ecosystem of adults and parents living in urban and rural communities. The aim is to create a digitally inclusive and financially literate society, thereby improving the lives of the underprivileged community.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it disrupted the lives of many families, but the most affected people were those living in communities that survive on daily wages. The students of NIIT Foundation belong to such at-risk families such as tailors, house helps, carpenters, small shop owners, auto-rickshaw drivers, etc. With support from partners, donors, and organizations such as Salesforce, NIIT Foundation financially supported families of over 1500 such students.
When many of us felt powerless, not knowing how to reach out and contribute, NIIT Foundation students took the lead by participating in a Covid-19 preventive awareness program. They ensured that their neighbours and friends understood the importance of following covid appropriateb ehaviour protocol and getting vaccinated.
Many beautiful stories have emerged where the students share how helping others helped them to find meaning in their own lives and develop confidence in these uncertain times.
Emerging from the legacy of NIIT, NIIT Foundation has used technology to its advantage and strengthened systems, processes, and training delivery during the pandemic. The organisation quickly moved its programs to an online Learning Management System (LMS) that enabled students to continue their training by using a mobile app when most other educational institutes had shut down.
Initially, it was challenging to implement LMS in rural and urban slum areas where theInternet connectivity and availability of smart gadgets are still not widespread.LMS now works both online with minimum bandwidth as well as offline. It is currently being used by more than 135 centers of NIIT Foundation and by 25 of its NGO partner centers in a very effective manner. It has showcased improved results every month.
NIIT Foundation recognized that while the organisation was better prepared to handle the lockdown because of the availability of the LMS, other NGOs and partners needed support. NIIT Foundation has provided free digital literacy programs to over 100NGO partners, enabled faculty to create the processes for online delivery of their programs, and even motivated them to be fully present during the training sessions delivered through the LMS.
Working during the pandemic in underserved communities using digital learning solutions has brought about several learnings for NIIT Foundation, a few of which have been shared below.
• Building relationships and working with the ecosystem- Being in constant touch with the students throughvideo calling is critical to building a relationship with students in a digital medium. Yet, there are some challenges and fearsthat need to be addressed.
For example, students avoid switching on the cameras because they feel shy of their background. In some cases, the parents feel anxious about potential video misuse when their girls switch on their cameras.
Digital learning for NIIT Foundation students entails digital literacy and confidence-building for the entire family.
• Availability and use of digital devices for learning and providing offline solutions: Digital devices are usually shared family assets. Most often, the priority is the parent, brother, and,if permitted, the girl student in the house. As a result, it is very important to offer offline learningthat NIIT Foundation offers through LMS, where the student can learn according to their flexibility.
• Keeping students motivated and engaged despite the several challenges: The faculty connect and encouragement is necessary for the students to work despite the various obstacles such as unreliable internet connectivity, too much background noise, device downtime etc.
One key message emerging from the pandemic has been the importance of resilience. NIIT Foundation has always focused on developing Change Maker qualities in students,and this endeavour has become even more relevant in these trying times.
The NIIT Foundation Change Maker program aims to help students develop their own potential so that they can lead their lives with confidence and conviction while deeply understanding their role in nation-building. NIIT 'Foundation's mission is to enable 100,000 Change Maker students in the next five years.
NIIT Foundation is supported in this journey by many like-minded NGO partners and corporations such as ATC, Sony, Mahindra Finance, HP, CISCO, Microsoft, Indus Tower, and HPCL. NIIT Foundation has impacted around 50 lakh underserved students from rural and urban communities and helped transition about 70,000 youth to work-life with their support.
The foundation is creating a specialized program to specifically focus on underserved youth who might have been economically impacted because of COVID-19. This includes counseling them for new job profiles, providing training that will help them develop alternate careers and help them transition to a new industry.
NIIT Foundation realizes how critical it is to align its CSR programs with government initiatives for a long-term impact. One such program is the skills employability program, through which Cisco is offering programs at many government universities, engineering Colleges, ITI's, polytechnics, and grassroots NGOs.
NIIT Foundation as an implementation partner for this program, is working directly with the central and state governments to implement the program in various parts of India. Through this program, Cisco has impacted more than 40,000 youth till date. This year to the plan is to expand the program to pan India and support additional 40,000 youth. These programs not only focus on skill-building but also help the youth with employability.
As a special initiative this year Cisco CSR team has launched a new program to support the government of India to fight against COVID. Due to this pandemic and frequent lockdown, many Indians have lost their jobs and are struggling for their livelihood. As a part of this program, we will be working with people who have lost their jobs and help them to acquire the required skills to restart their careers again.
Input by Vikram Kumar, GM, NIIT Foundation